Kevin Lang: Council elections are the key to winning again

This weekend we are running all the speeches from Alex Cole-Hamilton’s rally on Friday after he was declared Scottish Lib Dem leader. Next up is his best friend and the architect of Alex’s, Christine Jardine’s and Wendy Chamberlain’s successful election campaigns. From his speech you get quite an insight into their relationship and into Alex as a person.

Alex may have the biggest vote of any MSP, but Kevin gained the highest number of first preferences of any councillor in Scotland. This man knows how to win elections and he’s on a mission to make sure we win as many council seats as possible next year.

So, about 10 days ago I got ap hone call from ACH. Now this is not an infrequent event but it was a conversation like we’ve never had before.

“Kevin, ” he said, if I’m fortunate enough to be chosen as party leader on 20th August, it would mean the world to be if you would come and speak at the announcement of the result. Can you do it?”

And I said to him, of course, you are my best friend. Of course I  want to be there for you. But tell me, what is the format going to be? Who are the speakers?  What role do you want me to have.

And then with all of the classic understatement that we associate with Alex Cole-Hamilton, he said:

“Well, Kevin, Jack Norquoy is going to be speaking. And this is going to be Jack’s Obama moment. Remember when Obama spoke for the first time at the Democratic National Convention, well this is Jack’s Obama moment.

I said, this is exciting. What role do you want me to have?

And he paused: Well, he said, do you remember when Pete Buttigieg rolled out his old high school classmates, that’s you.

Right, so Jack’s Obama and I’m  Pete Buttigieg’s high school classmates. If ever anything told me that I was the future once, it was that.

But here’s the truth. I have known Alex for 20 years. I know him about as well as anybody. And I can tell you with. You will struggle to find a more decent person and you will struggle to find a truer liberal than him. So for the last 20 years I have been proud to call him my best friend but today I am proud to call him my party leader.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about the future, but before I do that I want to say a little bit about the past.

Four years ago I was elected as a councillor in the City of Edinburgh. Put simply, it’s the best job I have ever had. The chance that you have to help people in their everyday lives, to take decisions about the community that make their lives better is far better than I ever thought would be the case.

It’s because of that I want to see so many more lib dem councillors elected last year.

How wonderful a moment was it exactly seven days ago today when Colin Aitken and Jill Tilt were elected councillors  on the same day gaining seats and becoming the newest members of the Liberal Democrat councillor family? It was a fantastic moment.

What I am even more excited by is that I see the people who have already stood up, stepped forward, raised their hand and said “I want to be a Liberal Democrat Councillor next year.” People like Des Bouse up in Aberdeen, Joe Macaulay in Glasgow, Paul McGarry in East Kilbride,  Aude Boubaker-Calder in Dunfermline and Sanne Dijkstra-Downie in Edinburgh. Absolutely fantastic candidates and people who I think would make tremendous councillors and representatives in their communities.

But we are going to have to work hard for this just like Colin did in Inverness.

Let’s be crystal clear. If we want to win more seats at parliamentary level, we are going to have to win in more places at local level. That’s how we turn the disappointment of this year into success next year.

And do you know what? That’s the attitude I admire most in my friend Alex. I saw it in 2007 his tenacity when he narrowly lost. Did he give up? No, he carried on. I saw it again in 2011 with another difficult election. Did he give up? No. He carried on. And in 2016 when he gained Edinburgh Western from the SNP, he didn’t stop there either. This year he didn’t just win, he won by almost 10,000 votes, the highest number of votes of any MSP in the history of the Scottish Parliament.

That’s the kind of person we have as our leader from today. And I’m so excited for my friend and for our party as to what we can achieve with Alex Cole-Hamilton at our helm.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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